Targeting Cancer and Offering Hope
"We get to know our patients here. We like to take the time to get to know them, who they are, what interests them. That is very important. You're not just treating cancer - you're treating a person. Our patients are not alone in this fight." - John Robinson, M.D.
It was May of 2007 when Jack Aird began feeling fatigued. As the months went on, he felt tired and nauseous, and then by October, he wasn't able to keep any food down. On a trip he took to help his son move, he really started to know that something wasn't right.
"I was feeling really bad while I was driving," Jack remembers with a grimace. "When I got home, I had bruising on my body, and my right side where my spleen is located was very tender. I had trouble keeping anything in my body. After two courses of antibiotics, my family doctor decided that I should have a blood test done."
The Blood Test
Jack went to Chambersburg Hospital where his white blood cell count was tested. When the doctors saw the results, they knew exactly what was going on in Jack's body. "They told me that I had leukemia," Jack said. "My white blood cell count was at 300,000 and normal is supposed to be 11,000. My body was producing too many white blood cells."
Dr. John Robinson, medical oncologist with Summit Cancer and Hematology Services, an affiliate of Summit Health, took Jack's case. "At the hospital, they also ran what is called a BCR /ABL FISH test," Dr. Robinson explained. "This test showed that Jack's body was producing BCR/ABL - which meant that Jack's disease now had a name -- Chronic Myelogenic Leukemia (CML)."
Targeting the Problem
According to Dr. Robinson, new medications are available for cancers like Jack's, called targeted medications. The drugs target the molecular problem in the body causing the cancerous cells, eradicating the problem, not only leaving a patient cancer-free for the moment, but possibly for life.
"Targeted therapies have revolutionized cancer treatment," Dr. Robinson said. "It's almost like a miracle. The vast majority of patients that come here, we can help in a dramatic fashion. Targeted therapies are like a magic bullet."
Jack's Magic Bullet
In Jack's case, the "magic bullet" was Gleevec, a drug is designed to stop the chromosomal coupling taking place in Jack's body. "Targeted therapies have turned CML into a non-worrisome disease for many people," explained Dr. Robinson.
"My white blood cell count was returning to normal within a week of taking the medicine,and I felt better in a couple of weeks. This was great, considering I had been sick for six months," Jack added.
Jack will have to take one pill each day to control his CML for the rest of his life. With this life-saving therapy he has been leukemia free for almost two years, and is very thankful that this latest in cancer treatment was available to him so close to his home.
Close to Home and Not Alone
"We didn't have to drive to [Johns] Hopkins or [Penn State Milton S.] Hershey [Medical Center]," Jack said proudly. "I was able to receive the latest treatments right here at home. I had fantastic care, and I didn't feel like just another number."
"Everyone has been so great to my wife and me," Jack added.
Hope is Alive
Jack has always enjoyed cars and watching racing. Three years ago, one year before his cancer diagnosis, he began restoring a 1971 medium blue Cutlass convertible.
His disease may have side-tracked his plans for that car, but only for the moment. With the hope provided from taking the latest cancer medications, he is confident that he's going to get a chance to drive his restored Cutlass with the top down and the wind at his back for many years to come.
To donate a tax-deductible gift in support of cancer services at Summit Cancer and Hematology Services or to honor your healthcare "Hero" through the Grateful Patient Program, contact the Development office at (717) 267-7703 or firstname.lastname@example.org.